The Maine Department of Marine Resources has joined as an intervenor in the Maine Lobstermen’s Association lawsuit challenging NMFS restrictions on lobster gear to protect North Atlantic right whales.
A Dec. 30 announcement from Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ office said “NMFS acted arbitrarily by failing to rely on the best available scientific information and by failing to account for the positive impact of conservation measures already adopted by the Maine lobster fishery.”
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association lawsuit in Washington, D.C, federal court challenges the NMFS biological opinion on right whales issued in May 2021, the agency’s response to federal court rulings that whale protections so far have failed to meet requirements of endangered species and marine mammal laws.
NMFS has put on new regulations for using lobster traps and their vertical floating lines to buoys that the agency and whale experts see as a serious threat to the survival of the right whale population, estimated at around 360 animals.
Ship strikes on the surface-swimming right whales and crab gear lines in Canadian water are other threats. The Maine lobstermen’s lawsuit says NMFS overstates the danger from their fishing gear.
“There’s never been a known right whale mortality associated with the Maine lobster fishery, and there have been zero known right whale entanglements associated with Maine lobster gear in almost two decades. Despite these facts and regardless of our lobster industry’s proven commitment to conservation, the National Marine Fisheries Service has pushed forward with regulations that will be devastating to our lobster industry and to our way of life,” according to a prepared statement from Mills.
“Maine cares about protecting the endangered right whale, but the Federal government’s regulations must be based in sound science and should account for conservation measures already taken by our fishery.”
“Over decades, the Maine lobster fishery has adopted strong conservation measures to protect right whales. The result of this longstanding commitment should not be ignored by federal regulators,” said Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher.
The Maine agency in September joined as an intervenor in another lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity that claims NMFS’ actions don’t go far enough. Mills said if the environmental group wins that action it “could close Maine’s lobster fishery altogether.”